Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant: fire extinguished as Zelensky condemns Russia’s attack

The blaze was extinguished at 6:20 am local time, the agency said in the statement, about an hour after it confirmed that firefighters were on the scene. Background radiation levels were normal and fighting had temporarily ceased, authorities said earlier.

In a Facebook post early Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of intentionally firing at the power plant.

“Russian tanks are shooting at the atomic blocks equipped with thermal imagers. They know what they are shooting at. They’ve been preparing for this (attack),” Zelensky said in the post, adding “our guys are keeping the atomic power station secure.”

The very fact Russia launched an attack at the plant is itself an extremely dangerous act and could cause a potential catastrophe, he said.

“No country besides Russia has ever fired upon an atomic power plant’s reactors. The first time, the first time in history,” he said, urging European leaders to “wake up now” and stop Russian forces “before this becomes a nuclear disaster. “

The plant, near the city of Enerhodar in southeastern Ukraine, had not sustained any critical damage in the attack, Andrii Tuz, a plant spokesman, told CNN on Friday, adding that when firefighters initially arrived they were blocked by Russian troops.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Ukraine’s regulator had told the organization there had been no change in reported radiation levels and that the fire had not affected “essential” equipment.

United States Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said the US had activated its Nuclear Incident Response Team and is monitoring events in consultation with the Department of Defense, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the White House.

The plant’s reactors are being “safely shut down,” Granholm said, as she called for an end to military action near the facility. “Russian military operations near the plant are reckless and must cease,” she said.

The IAEA on Friday said via Twitter that it had put its Incident and Emergency Center “in full 24/7 response mode due to serious situation.”

Both US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson discussed the situation in separate calls with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky early Friday. According to statements from London and Washington, the leaders called for Russia to cease military activities and allow full access to emergency workers.

Johnson will seek an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting in the coming hours, and the UK will raise the issue immediately with Russia and close partners, the British statement said.

Smoke rises from tire barricades set on fire in Enerhoda, Ukraine, on March 3.

Plant came under attack

Reports of an attack on the facility emerged early Friday morning, with video of the scene showing bursts of gunfire apparently directed at the Zaporizhzhia facility before dawn.

“Russian army is firing from all sides upon Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.

A large number of Russian tanks and infantry “broke through the block-post” to Enerhodar, a few kilometers from the Zaporizhzhia power plant, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said, according to a statement from the watchdog.

Flames could also be seen on video footage, though for some time it was unclear where the fire was or the scale of the threat posed to the facility.

The Zaporizhzhia plant contains six of the country’s 15 nuclear energy reactors, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The facility accounts for one-fifth of the average annual electricity production in Ukraine, according to Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear power operator.

In an interview with CNN on Thursday, IAEA’s Grossi said the agency was in “constant contact” with Ukrainian counterparts to ensure the safety of facilities in Ukraine.

“What makes it is unprecedented this is the first time in post-second world war history we have a full-fledged military operation amidst…a large number of nuclear facilities, including nuclear reactors,” said Grossi.

“There is always the danger of military activity that could affect the sites or that there might be some interruption or some disruption in the normal operation of any of these facilities that may result in a problem or an accident,” he said.

Zaporizhzhia is located about 125 miles (200 kilometers) west of the city of Donetsk within one of the two pro-Moscow territories recognized as an independent state last month by Russia.

UN resolution addresses nuclear threat

On Thursday, IAEA member states passed a resolution calling on Russia to cease actions against nuclear facilities in Ukraine, diplomats said.

The resolution, which was led by Canada and Poland, and supported by 26 other countries, deplored Russia’s “aggressive activity and attacks against nuclear sites in Ukraine, and seizing and taking control of nuclear facilities,” the British ambassador in Vienna Corinne Kitsell said.

Only Russia and China voted against the resolution, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.

It’s the first nuclear reaction under threat from the Russian invasion. On the first day of the assault, Russian forces seized control of the Chernobyl power plant in northern Ukraine, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, according to Ukrainian officials.

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant reactor exploded in 1986, when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union — sparking a disaster that affected, directly or indirectly, 9 million people, due to radioactive materials released into the atmosphere.

The IAEA said Ukraine had informed it that staff held at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant since Russian military forces took control of the site a week ago were facing “psychological pressure and moral exhaustion,” according to an IAEA statement.

In a joint appeal to the international nuclear watchdog, the Ukrainian government, regulatory authority and national operator said staff at the facility must be allowed to rest and rotate so that their crucial work can be carried out safely and securely.

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Sam Fossum, Julia Hollingsworth, Pete Muntean, Travis Caldwell, Steve Almasy, Akanksha Sharma, Masha Angelova, Hira Humayun and Philip Wang contributed to this report.

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